Some kids with autism don’t love brushing their teeth. They run and scream as soon as a toothbrush is in sight. Others don’t mind if YOU brush their teeth but are not very excited about doing it themselves. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as trouble staying focused, lack of motivation or simply the desire to do something else. Teaching teeth brushing to special needs learners can be very tricky.
Teaching teeth brushing doesn’t have to be such a struggle. It can be more fun than you think and go more smoothly than you ever imagined if you break down the process into manageable (and fun!) steps for your learner. By the way, this program could work for any child, however, I have really put an emphasis on physical guidance and visual support which are both adapted to special needs learners.
So how many steps are there to brushing your teeth anyway? How can you teach teeth brushing to your little one?
That depends how you break things down… I recommend, you try the following for teaching teeth brushing success :
- Put toothpaste on toothbrush.
- Put toothbrush in your mouth.
Depending on your child’s level of comprehension and motivation, you will need to guide each step more or less. To get started, guide each step fully. This means that you will take your child’s hand and physically guide them through each step. The goal is always to teach your child to be independent but never through pushing too hard or causing frustration. For this reason, I absolutely recommend giving guidance (sometimes even more guidance than is actually needed!) when your child is just starting out with a new task. You will have plenty of time to reduce your guidance and allow your child to become independent in the following steps!
Guide your child to go throug steps 1 through 5 the first time you are doing this program. The second time, reduce your guidance just a little bit. Maybe have your child hold the toothbrush alone while you add the toothpaste. If your child is not yet able to squeeze toothpaste from a tube, try some of these fun fine motor activities. Each time your child becomes just a little more independent, give lots of verbal praise (“wow!”, “great job!”, etc.) to show your child that you’re really proud of him or her and that he or she is on the right track towards fully independent teeth brushing!
Keep decreasing your physical guidance. The next time you work on this program together, have your child complete two steps independently, maybe just helping with steps 3-5. Your child should be becoming more and more proud of brushing his or her teeth alone from all of that amazing reinforcement you are giving along the way!
If your child is having trouble remembering the steps, you could prepare some visual support in the form of photos of your child doing each step (1-5). Hang them on the wall next to where you brush your teeth and walk your child through the steps as you are also doing each step. When one step is complete, remove the photo and put it in a little envelope next to the sink.
This is a system that you can keep in place once your child is brushing his or her teeth completely independently.
Did you find this program helpful? What are your steps to teaching teethbrushing?
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